LOS ANGELES — Oscar-winner Javier Bardem spent five months in the Barcelona slums filming Biutiful, in which he stars as Uxbal, a single father and undocumented worker wrangler who can also commune with the recently deceased. It didn’t exactly make for a light workload, but for Bardem it was worth it just to team up with writer and director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel).
What attracted you to the project?
Many things. The director, Alejandro — I’m a huge fan of his previous works, and I knew he was going to be an amazing actors’ director based on the performances that I saw in his movies. But more important than that, because I’m not the kind of actor that gets crazy with names, was the material. The script, beautifully written by him, and the character, which is very complex. There were so many layers to convey that I knew it was going to be a hard task, but a rewarding one.
How was working with Iñárritu?
He is one of the greatest directors of all time. That’s what I meant by an actors’ director. You can tear apart your heart, but if the camera is not in the right place, it doesn’t matter. He knows where to put the camera. He knows how to hold a silence, he knows how to put the music in the right place. He knows where to cut. And that helps you have the best of your performance out there.
Did the role make you see life and death any differently?
No, not really. The good thing about being an actor, the gift of being an actor is that you are forced — beautifully forced, we choose to be forced — to see the world with different eyes. You cannot get attached to what that character feels about an issue. You have to put yourself away and be him. It’s not you. So it never changes my idea of death. But this being said, we all understand things intellectually. We see the news, we read the papers, we see people on the street and we understand the world. The actor has the obligation to experience it. It’s not that I know how it feels, but I know that experience in a very emotional way, which is different from knowing intellectually.
Given how much Biutiful focuses on people living in the shadows of Barcelona life, Has the experience of making this movie changed the way you look at cities?
I try to be up when I go to places to see different sides. In L.A. it’s difficult because every time I come here, it’s like an office. I come here to work and I go back home. So I see the L.A. that we all know. But sometimes I get to get to downtown and see the other L.A. that is not in the papers — well, maybe in the papers here, but not in the papers around the world.
With Barcelona it was the same. Spain is my country, and I smell things in a different way because I know the language, I know the culture, I know the place. And I knew about all those things, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to be in those situations with those people, in those real places, that the experience of being conscious of something transcended an intellectual aspect of it. It goes to an emotional level. It’s like, we all understand how bad it could be. Well, until the moment you are there, when you feel it, you go, like, ‘F---, this is bad.’ Or good. Like how good it could be to be a millionaire. Then you win the lottery and you’re a millionaire, and then you’re f----ed.